As a novelist, I’m often asked if I base characters off people I know. I’ve seen some funny warnings on facebook about the dangers of getting on a writer’s bad side, but honestly, I don’t use real people as a basis to craft characters. However, looking back on the characters I’ve written and grown to love, I do notice pieces of myself in each of them.
It was odd to realize, because I didn’t do that intentionally. I guess it boils down to the sound, age-old advice to “Write what you know.” Well, what do you know better than yourself? You know your gifts and talents, and the lens through which you view the world. You know your dreams and aspirations, and hopefully, you know a bit about your flaws and shortcomings too. You know the person you WISH you could be: and all that comes out in your characters, or at least, it did it my case. I’ll go into just two examples: Kansten and Zalski.
Kansten Carder is a spunky woman and, so I’ve been told, a lot of people’s favorite character in “The Crimson League.” That really surprised me, because she can be a real grump. She’s difficult to handle, complains a lot, and though she’s not selfish per se, her first thoughts in evaluating a situation would be about herself. I should find it heartening that so many people love Kansten despite her flaws, because I know when I was younger I definitely shared her penchant to grumble and take little things too personally. That’s a piece of me that comes out in her.
Zalski Forzythe, on the other hand, is not so admirable a person. He’s the villain, the regicidal sorcerer who took over the kingdom and is running it into the ground. Well, it was important to me that Zalski had some humanizing, respectable, even admirable qualities. Those aspects to a negative character are important because they make him more believable at the same time they make him more terrifying, because let’s face it, it’s freaky to realize you kind of feel for the villain a bit. Well, one of the major ways I humanized Zalski was to stress how those who know him can always depend on him to keep his word. Despite his crimes, he feels he was in the right to act as he’s done and he has a deep-rooted sense of integrity. In my case, nothing bugs me more than when people say they’ll do something and then don’t follow through. Of course, I’m far from perfect on that account, but I strive to be true to my word as much as I can. That’s important to me and it comes through in, of all people, the bad guy.
So, that’s my two cents on this topic. If you’re a writer, I’d love to hear something about what parts of you appear in your characters!